2021 Teacher of the Year

"The poetry that evolved from excursions into the natural world didn’t end there. Students connected their poetry to Greek mythology, as they were reading and exploring ancient Greek culture at the time.  Such was the inspiration for Trey Rivera’s poem, “The Mill River”, which was a 2019 finalist.  Along with individual poetry writing each year, students pooled their favorite lines to create class stanzas, which then composed whole team poems."  

River of Words / Kalmanovitz School of Education 2021 Teacher of the Year

Meet Diana Ajjan, of John F. Kennedy Middle School; Northampton, Massachusetts 

2021 Teacher of the Year

Since 2013, Diana has spearheaded end of the year field trips with her seventh grade team. She collaborates with River of Words to provide students with an opportunity to explore beyond the classroom into a multi-sensory experience with nearby watersheds. Through these fieldtrips Diana incorporates three components: direct experience with the watershed, poetry writing and multi-media visual arts.

Through River of Words she has developed interdisciplinary projects that have had a lasting impact on her students, on the school community and the larger school district. Diana has used the ROW Watershed Explorer Curriculum to connect students' innate imaginations with the natural world.  Her passionate exploration within the literary arts and her objective to develop agile and curious minds has inspired her to connect the learning community at JFK with broader learning communities in Northampton such as the art museum and botanical gardens at Smith College, and the Connecticut River nonprofit. 

"Too often in a large public school, students are confined to learning within its cinder walls.  The River of Words projects allowed them to utilize an alternative learning environment--the natural world--to heighten their senses and awareness, to just be in a place at a moment in time, too rare a thing in most everyone’s busy and tech-driven lives."


Outdoor excursions prompted students to work on both poetry and team projects where they practiced collaboration and leadership skills. Their creations were then shared with parents, the wider school community, and future middle schoolers through art installations and performances. Diana has truly done a phenomenal job in creating experiences that reach far beyond the classroom.

Below is a poem by 2019 Finalist, Trey Rivera, a former student of Diana's.


"The Mill River"

If the Mill River 

Were to pass through ancient Greece, 

It would be praised 

For its winding turns. 


The God of the Mill River 

Would be representative of unexpected change. 

Things you thought would go predictably and straight, 

But would start to curve left, 

Then suddenly whip to the right. 


People would build on it, 

Try to block it with a dam, 

But man cannot prevent unexpected change - 

The Mill River Flood of 1874 


The fish in the river, 

Do not care if it takes them north or south. 

They travel along the way the water wishes, 

If you refuse to worry about your way, 

And you go the way destiny favors you, 

You will find peace.

Trey Rivera, age 13